The MMO game-development space is a challenging one. Lots of competition and a finite potential audience mean that creators need to constantly think in new ways to engage players. The Old Republic is exploring a novel solution, and it should be fascinating to see if the structure can capture attention. BioWare is preparing to launch a story-driven, single-playerfocused expansion exclusively for its paid subscribers. While the studio isn’t explicitly saying so, this expansion seems positioned like a Knights of the Old Republic sequel.
Existing players can take their level 60 characters and continue into this new storyline, but anyone can create a brand new hero or heroine. “At character creation, you can choose to start at level 60,” says creative director Jesse Sky. “You’ll customize your character like you normally would, select your class, and click play. The story will start immediately, and the first chapter will get you accustomed to the gameplay. You’ll be provided a set of powerful, iconic gear to start your adventure, so you won’t have to worry about it.”
The story focuses on the mysterious Emperor Valkorion, hinted at extensively throughout the original Old Republic game. After abandoning the Sith, Valkorion builds the new Eternal Empire as a third major faction in the galaxy. You play the Outlander, a veteran of the Great Galactic War that unfolded in early parts of the Old Republic story. “This is really an evolution of the Old Republic setting,” Sky says. “Revan’s story was closely intertwined with the Emperor’s, but for much of the timeline in Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Emperor remained a figure cloaked in mystery. With Knights of the Fallen Empire, he’s stepping into the spotlight.”
This dedicated, standalone plotline places a bigger focus on companion interactions, putting it in line with other successful BioWare titles like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. With new party members in tow, players head out to fresh corners of the Star Wars galaxy. “Knights of the Fallen Empire introduces a new part of the galaxy that’s mostly unexplored,” Sky says. “After escaping from carbonite, we explore the planet Zakuul, the capital of the Eternal Empire. In the early parts of the story, we spend a lot of time lost or running from agents of the Eternal Empire. This leads us to a secret haven in the clouds on the planet Asylum, and to the dark world of Odessen, where we form the beginnings of an alliance against this new threat.”
In addition to an unconventional story structure for an MMO, BioWare is also exploring a different approach to content rollout. The initial nine chapters of Knights of the Fallen Empire are set to release at the end of October, with subsequent installments rolling out at regular intervals into 2016, culminating in a season conclusion at the end of the 16th chapter.
All of The Old Republic’s existing multiplayer-targeted content remains on offer for all subscribers, but this latest expansion looks like a genuine experiment. Are players willing to pay in for solo-focused storytelling in an otherwise multiplayer-focused game? With the palpable excitement surround- ing Star Wars right now, BioWare has chosen an opportune moment to give it a try.